2 weekend “Non-Events” that made me love Linux even more.

31 05 2011

This morning at work a co-worker asked me how my weekend went and if I did anything interesting. My reply was a simple ‘Nothing much. Watched Science Fiction on TV and worked on computers.” It was rather non-eventful after all. “Oh yeah? What did you work on?” I had to think about this for a second. Most of what I did was so trivial that I didn’t remember right away. I read a few documents I had been meaning to do. Sorted and tagged the photos from the last vacation. Cleaned out my inbox of emails. Oh yeah! I also did two interesting projects.

Two things actually did happen to me over this past Memorial Day weekend. Two things that were such non-events that I almost didn’t remember I did them. Even after I remembered, it took a comparison between Linux and another OS before it hit me of just how big of a deal this actually was to me. Once the full realization of what I had done sunk in I knew right away that I love Linux and all the people who contribute to it just a little more then I had before.

Non-Event #1

I had a 64bit Debian Squeeze install. Nothing special on it, in fact it was a very stripped down install. This was primarily a “Repository Server” for me. It was my local mirror for Debian Lenny and Squeeze, Ubuntu 10.04, CentOS 5, and Scientific Linux 6. A big hard drive with a very little OS footprint. Well, it wasn’t on a battery backup because I didn’t care enough. We got hit with a brown out that blew the power supply. My bad luck comes in to play with the fact that the power supply is a special one that I don’t have a replacement for and to buy a replacement would cost as much as the computer originally cost me.

So what to do? Well I pulled the drive out, and plugged it into a less powerful spare box. Booted the box, and the only major change was that instead of my two network cards being eth0 and eth1, they were now eth2 and eth3. The rest of the system ran just fine. I made a few changes to the network card properties and as far the network/computer were concerned the box wasn’t any different. My scripts all continued to run, the other computers still used it for pulling updates, and every one went on doing their thing. A complete non-event.

What makes this special then?

Well it occurred to me that many years ago when I still had a Windows XP box and my motherboard died, I had tried to take my hard drive out and plug it into a new system. Not only did it not work, but it complained that I had invalidated my license key! I had to do a backup (with a Live Linux cd) followed by a re-install. A co-worker pointed out that when they tried doing it with Windows Vista, they got the logo with the scrolling bar and it would never boot any further. They too had to re-install. In fact, from everyone in my (albeit very limited) group no one could think of a time when they were able to do this successfully with Windows *without* using a 3rd party migration tool.

This is why it was a non-event to me that was so very special. My Linux swap had no licensing issues. There was no halted booting. There was no re-install of my OS and programs with near endless updates for the updates. There was no pain, no suffering, no gnashing of teeth, nor was there even a sign of a feint hint of a headache in the foreseeable future. That’s how easy it was. I just swapped the disk and had my server back up and running with nearly no downtime or incident!

I Love Linux.

Non-Event #2
My laptop runs an older version of Ubuntu (because I am too dang lazy to update…thats why). It has been behaving rather odd recently. I knew it was the hard drive because when things went really wrong I could hear it slam the arm against the drive and spin down just moments before the laptop would hang. I have been too lazy to upgrade, so that should tell you that I don’t care enough about this laptop to swap the hard drives. Well I fired up a program by clicking its GUI icon and nothing happened. Huh. Try it again. Nothing. Try it from the command line and it refused to run. The heck? So just for grins I tried to run it with gdb. Oh boy, was it not happy. Huh. It ran fine earlier this morning. A random thought made me check the md5sum of the file vs what it was supposed to be. It didn’t match. Great. So I ran badblocks and guess what? I had a BUNCH of them! Arg. I knew it was coming so I couldn’t blame anyone but myself.

I turned on MythTV and watched more Science Fiction shows while I pulled the 80GB drive out of my laptop. Using a laptop-2-USB adapter I plugged it into my main computer. I found a smaller 40GB laptop drive that was in great shape, and I plugged it into my main computer with another adapter. I inspected the bad drive and it seemed that all the problems were in the 10GB root partition. There were three partitions: root, a small swap, and the rest in the home partition. For some reason the big home partition didn’t register problems, yet.

Using dd with the “conv=noerror,sync” option (lots of bad sectors that dd had to replace with 0’s) I copied the root parition (10GB) to the 40GB drive. I created a small 2GB swap partition on the 40GB drive, and dumped the rest into /home. On the 80GB drive /home had most of the space but I was only using ~5GB. Therefore, I mounted the two /home partitions and rsynced the data with proper permissions (no errors were reported). I had to edit the /etc/fstab of the new drive to edit the UUID’s of the new swap and home partition but that was it. I slapped the new drive into the laptop and booted it up. No problems at all. However, I did still have bad sections of 0’s, remember? And these 0’s were in the midst of various programs which would cause plenty of problems. I ran debsums and sure enough several packages reported problems. I reinstalled those packages and re-ran debsums. All good!

In total with all the file transfers, it was only about 3 hours while my attention was mostly watching a Science Fiction show that was almost as un-memorable as the replacing of the drive. Now my laptop has a working hard drive in it and appears to be in great shape.

What makes this special then?

As I was discussing this with my co-workers we came up with several pitfalls had this been attempted under Windows.

First, Windows doesn’t have a separate partition capabilities for its ‘Documents and Settings’ aka /home information (at least none that we are aware of without using third party tools of which at least one of us has tried with little success). Therefore the separating of all the users files from system files would have been quite painful.

Second, while a dd of a windows drive would have worked it would have a) required a Linux box or live cd (but we may just not know of a Microsoft alternative though I am sure there are paid-for 3rd party tools) and b) would have required shrinking the NTFS partition to the smaller drive size before transferring. The shrinking of the file system *could* have resulted in _more_ corruption depending on how it was done.

Third, program installation and program file tracking in Windows is absolutely terrible. There is NO other way of saying that without resorting to foul and inappropriate language. Unfortunately that language is almost necessary to describe how terrible Windows is at tracking and installing programs. Microsoft just simply doesn’t have a good package manager (they don’t even have something that rates higher then terrible). Therefore, even after a partition transfer with bad sectors there would be no way to check all the files installed by various programs to determine which files/programs needed to be re-installed. A bit-by-bit copy would have been just as broken.

Fourth, as discussed earlier in Non-Event #1 transferring installs between computers can be a huge pain. Now in this case since all the hardware was the same except for the hard drive, hopefully one wouldn’t have problems. Still how many people have changed a few items in their computer and had to re-activate their Windows license? A quick Google search says A LOT! I am glad this threat doesn’t hang over me in the Linux world.

Since a bit-by-bit copy doesn’t seem to have very good chance of working in the Windows world (in this example), maybe a migration would work. However, we are not aware of a good Microsoft provided migration tool. You would have to install Windows to the new drive, then use a third party tool (which would probably cost even more money) to migrate your programs, files, and tools.

Since migration is iffy and going to cost more money, the only alternative that has any good chance of working without paying more money would be to do a complete re-install. A re-install that would take a LOT of time and effort with FAR too many updates of the updates of the updates. And that is just for Windows. After that you have to install all of your programs and transfer your files.

Regardless of how you manage to rebuild the Windows laptop, it is going to be painful. It is VERY doubtful it could have been done in the same time frame. Especially if one devotes time and attention to watching a movie (or should I say multiple movies with a Windows install). The only hope of doing it in that time frame is if you already have all the third party tools needed. Even if you could get it all copied, you still have ZERO ways of checking your programs to find out which ones got corrupted, much less a easy way of repairing those files. To put it bluntly, some one in this position is screwed.

I guarantee that *I* could not have done that much work and effort over something that should be so trivial and easy without going stabby-stabby on the laptop and/or the closest Windows developer I could find. Under Linux it was a non-event. It just worked. Nothing at all to get frustrated about.

Two non-events that took very little of my time. Two non-events that would have destroyed my weekend had I been a Windows user. My sincere thanks to all those who put their time and effort into Linux to make these non-events.

I Love Linux. It just works.


windows vista is _Hell_

13 06 2010

So a family member called me with a computer problem. Since I have moved them over to Ubuntu, I have rarely fielded these calls as things just work now. I figured it would be something similar to the last which was a 30 second fix. This time I was not so lucky. Turns out a college friend was having some serious problems with their Vista system.


Well I don’t really do windows. I haven’t even really touched windows in many years. In fact the vast majority of the knowledge I have on vista and 7 are Slashdot articles. But after some pleading from the family member as well as questions about what I did to them that they now hate me so much, I decided to give it a try. Five hours of my life are now lost…

The first big problem was that it was SLOW. Yeah, I know. Windows is the definition of slow and vista is the definition of even slower. This dual core 64bit AMD X2 with 2GB of memory was slower to boot then my P3 500 with 128 MB of memory. The second big problem is that they took it to Best Buy. Best Buy charged them 120$ and took it for a week. As far as the user is concerned they didn’t do anything. All of their problems still exist. So they took it to Office Depot. Office Depot charged them over 200$ and as far as the user is concerned they didn’t do anything but install McAfee. Which wasn’t needed as there was a Norton AV already installed (and still recieving updates) as well as an Avast (still active). I believe that I have since convinced them that should they experience computer problems in the future, to just take their money and burn it. Better use of the money with the same computer fixing results.

The first thing I noticed after a fresh boot was a TON of black cmd boxes opening and closing so fast I couldn’t see what they were. They ran for a solid minute. That can’t be good.

The second thing I noticed was that vista Start Menu SUCKED. That was quickly changed backed to classic where things are laid out in a proper orderly fashion. Well quickly being the 20 minutes it took to bring up the option…

I checked the process list and it easily spanned in the hundreds with random named processes. Really not good.

I installed Firefox, then went and got Spybot. Spybot found a bunch of nasties. So I cleared them all away. I immunized the system and I checked the startup listing with Spybot just to see hundreds of items that Spybot wanted to delete. So I let it and I rebooted.

Reboot was significantly faster. However, the black boxes still appeared. This time they had messages like “command not found in path”. Well that is good I guess. Whatever it is trying to run got deleted. So what is causing these boxes?

I couldn’t find anything in the start up menu, nor in windows vista startup lists, nor in Spybot (only 6 items all things that should start). Huh. I will try the log files.

Man, I miss Linux already.

When will microsoft learn to give a decent logging system in windows? It sucks. There was absolutely NOTHING worth while in there and the few items that looked interesting were completely vague and pointless. Jerks.

So I decided to go looking. That is what I found the most annoying software product since the invention of sounds in screen savers. When I opened “My computer” and began opening sub directories I noticed that the explorer window shifted to maintain focus on the directory. ‘What is wrong with this?’ you may ask. Well I wanted to see a specific hierarchy that I had purposely opened and adjusted. Now it kept moving and shifting. I knew I wanted to move straight up and go into a different directory, instead it shifted around and moved focus and I kept finding myself in directories I didn’t want to be in. Most of the time it took me longer just to figure out where I was. I don’t think I have wanted to stop a developers reproduction so badly before. In fact, should I ever meet the cruel jerk who came up with this idea, I can not guarantee that I won’t do the world a favor and deliver a swift kick to the groins…

I deleted a TON of crap programs as well as the old AV programs (no need having three on there; Thanks again Office Depot! ). I ran a virus scan with McAfee (which I never liked, but since it was brand new it had a longer contract service available). Now that most of the junk had been cleaned up, the system was getting reasonably better. Still way slower then it should be. At this point I am going to attribute it to windows vista.

There was still something bothering me. I had noticed that in one of the black boxes a path along the lines of “c:\Program Files\something\randomnumbers\Searchsomethingsomething”

It was a really weird path. Off I went to find what it was. I right clicked “Program files” (AGAIN with the stupid shifting sidebar!!! stupid [explicative deleted] jerks). I then looked in the menu for search. It wasn’t there. WTF? Why can’t I right click and do a search on that directory? XP had it! Why doesn’t vista?

Fine. I will use the stupid search dialog from the main menu. Has microsoft done surveys on how to confuse people more? If so then the surveys worked. Their find program gets worse and worse. Apparently indexing had been disabled somehow for everything but one directory that had just 3 files in it. Could have been default. Could have been on accident by the user (they didn’t know what indexing was), It could have been by any number of programs. Don’t know much about this stuff, so whatever. I adjusted the search terms to the directory I wanted and I know I saw the word search in the path so I entered it as the search term. Oh. My. Can the search go any slower? Just to be certain, long _after_ the search had started on a folder only 5GB in size I started a similar search on my Linux box spanning TERABYTES of data.

`find / -type d -iname “search*”`

Linux won. By several minutes. Not only that, but there were zero results from windows. So I adjusted the parameter to *search*. Again. Long wait time and zero results. Augh! Off I went directory by directory (Seriously. I really want to cock-kick the jerk with the shifting menu idea). I finally found the directory: “SearchDB4.2”. A Google search returned zero programs with that name, so I deleted the whole group of folders. Don’t know what it was, but if Google doesn’t know about it then it probably isn’t a legit program.

The next reboot had no black boxes popping up and ran significantly faster. 5 hours of my life gone but I think this will help them. I have already begun trying to convince them to install Ubuntu. I am supposed to visit that family member in a few months so I may bring my Ubuntu discs and upgrade them to a OS that doesn’t rape their computer on an hourly basis.

My first real experience with Windows Vista and I can say with out a trace of doubt “No wonder why the masses HATE windows vista!”

Another Microsoft Licensing Disaster

18 06 2009

I was asked by my boss to ‘upgrade’ one of the PC’s at work from Office 2003 to Office 2007. Personally I think it is bad enough Microsoft forces the end user to prove themselves innocent with a 25 character key, but to require a user to prove themselves yet again with a ‘Genuine Advantage’ update is ridiculous. To then ask the user to prove their innocence a third time, lest they be locked out after 25 program starts, is absurd!

I didn’t think they could insult me more or waste any more time, but they found a way. The third method, when you start an Office application for the first time, has two options. Prove your innocence of piracy online or over the phone. I just checked the box to do it over the internet. After several minutes it returned back saying the network wasn’t connected to the internet. BS. Open Firefox and I have internet. Tried it again with the same results. So I disabled the firewall AND the anti-virus. Same error. Wtf Microsoft? It just did updates, of course it can talk to the internet!

Fine, I will do it over the phone. Ever had to do that? First you have to give them a 56 digit random string. Yes a FIFTY-SIX digit random string over the phone. After about the 10th time it misunderstood me (on the first set of six digits), it allowed me to punch in the digits. That made it a bit easier but still wasn’t fun by any definition of the word. After I completed that nightmare, I got to do it again! This time they read the digits and I got to type them into the computer.

All of this for a legal upgrade from an existing legal install!

What a miserable way to waste ten minutes of my life.

Before anyone tells me that it is to protect Microsoft’s property or somehow benefits the consumer, let me explain something. Recounting the events in a online chat it was brought to my attention (I have not verified nor do I care to) that the version of Office 2007 currently hosted on thePirateBay.org doesn’t ask for any keys at all. Already cracked for the pirates. So once again doing things legally is a bigger hassle and pain for the user then the copy the pirates get. This isn’t the first time I have noticed this and it wont be the last (maybe later I will post the disaster that was the 64bit 2003 server install). Forcing the user to enter random garbage strings three times only makes the customer feel like they are in the wrong. I don’t like being called a thief, cheat, and liar and this is exactly what Microsoft is doing. They don’t believe you are a legit customer, they believe you have stolen their work, and they force you to prove otherwise. It is BS plain and simple.

Later I was bitching about the experience to a coworker (very pro-Microsoft) and he didn’t seem to have a problem with it at all. Just all part of the routine that he has done ‘hundreds’ of times. He claims the Office verification was a much easier process then some of their license verifications (I agree; As I mentioned before I have fought that battle with server 2k3 but that is another story). This all seems to natural to him and yet he can’t grasp why I enjoy the freedom I have. I can’t seem to grasp why he finds it hard to understand. Funny how that works.

I live free.

Not just in terms of monetary price either, but in a true and legal sense of the word. When I download/install/upgrade a Linux distro (or any other Open Source project) not once am I asked to prove my innocence. Not once am I accused of theft or piracy. I am bound by no EULA, no Digital Restrictions Management, no Imaginary Property rights, and no product keys. I can watch my videos, listen to my music, edit the source code, and do what I want when I want and no lawyer can tell me otherwise! The GPL ensures that I can do what I want with the code, fix bugs I find, improve, and /give/ /it/ /all/ /back/ _for_ _FREE_!! How cool is that? When I use Open Source I spend the first 10 minutes actually using the product and not fighting some corporation to prove myself from their accusations.

I am so glad we are moving people off of Microsoft (albeit slowly). I can’t wait till I no longer have to jump through these utterly insane and ultimately worthless hoops.